Travel: C’est Bizarre! Traveling in France

Living in a different country can be bizarre. Even France, a European country, has provided me with many strange experiences, the sort that make you stare.Take the pretty young woman who came to pick up my husband and me in her taxi: She wore boots with three-inch heels.

Many of my experiences in France have revolved around shoes. After two days of walking the streets of Paris in a pair of shoes that would have been comfortable in Washington D.C., my blistered feet cried out for something more practical. I went in search of shoes. There were many to choose from in the Marais. They came in interesting colors, such as green or violet. But their soles had no tread, and looked likely to slip over the cobblestones. So I went to Foot Locker, and acquired a pair of sneakers with treads. They came in an elegant shade of grey.

Later that day, I was sitting in a cafe, when I noticed a line of bicycles outside. Paris has a system where you can rent a bicycle for an hour or so, and there are many stands throughout the city. Pretty soon, an elegant young woman came up, dressed in a cream-colored suit (long jacket over short skirt). It was misting outside with rain as she unlocked one of the bikes. This did not seem to trouble her, for she got on and pedaled away. She had on four-inch heels.

The attractive young woman at the car rental desk at Strasbourg airport, patiently helped us understand every detail of the contract. At the end, sighing no doubt with relief, she sat down to type it up, making an s-shaped undulation as she did so. It was so attractive, and well, so sexy.

It reminded me of a French friend of ours, telling my husband that the role of women was to seduce, and that she had fallen into that trap as a young woman. I remembered thinking to myself, no it is not. As a young woman, I wanted to live a life of the mind, and of the imagination. Of course, I was not above flirting with someone whom I found attractive (such as my husband). But I resisted being La Femme, as a general mode of being, precisely because it was a trap.

As you can see from these vignettes, I enjoy interacting with French people. They truly seem to be interested in helping you out, provided of course, that you address them in French. The same cannot be said of their driving habits.  The French don’t drive so much as hunt. They roar down their autoroutes in packs, and if some poor person is in their way, they zoom in for the kill, hugging their victim’s rear bumper, one wheel lazily trailing in the other lane.

The authorities realize they have a problem on their hands, as evidenced by the following signs:

En arrivant à la péage, je ralentis (When arriving at the toll booth, I slow down)

Moins de vitesse = moins de morts (Less speed = fewer deaths)

Soyez prudents (Be careful)

What do French drivers think as they put everyone in harm’s way? Do they see themselves on horseback, splendidly decked out, hunting foxes? One does wonder.

Image: An Umbrella turned on it’s head, to become a bowl for a fountain that gently bubbles within. In back, is a kind of “ship” on wheels. Seen on the Pont Louis-Phillipe, Paris, one beautiful evening in June. It is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen, but the French adore their spectacles.  Personal collection.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels, short pieces and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.   (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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